Gotokuji Temple: The Temple Dedicated to the Maneki Neko

Cats play a significant role in Japan’s culture and history. They are also revered for giving good luck and other positive results. The popular Japanese cat figurine  Maneki Neko (招き猫, “beckoning cat”) is typically believed to bring such blessings. The figurine is often of a cat with its paw raised in an inviting gesture.

According to Japanese legend, there was once a poor and lonely priest that had only his cat for company. One stormy day, a rich nobleman got caught up in the deluge and sought shelter under a tree close to the temple of the priest. While waiting for the rain to stop, the nobleman saw the priest’s cat by the entrance of the temple. It seemed to be beckoning to him to enter. Awestruck by the cat’s unusual behavior, the man made his way to follow it. Just as he was away from the tree, it was suddenly struck by lightning.

Gotokuji Temple. | Dennis Amith

The nobleman took this to be a sign that the cat called his attention so that he would be spared from the unfortunate incident and he became the temple’s generous benefactor. Over time, the temple became popular and prosperous. This temple came to be known as Gotokuji Temple, and is dedicated to the Maneki Neko.

Gotokuji is a Buddhist temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya district and is considered to be the birthplace of the famous beckoning cat. The temple is a “must see” whenever visiting Tokyo.

Maneki Neko at Gotokuji. | Dick Thomas Johnson

Gotokuji Temple is unique not just for the legend but also for its architectural design. It is a three-story pagoda constructed similar to the traditional structures in Kyoto. The atmosphere and temple’s design make it easy for anyone to image what it must have been like on that same stormy night when the Maneki Neko came beckoning to the nobleman.

Gotokuji can easily be reached from central Tokyo. Take the Odakyu line in the direction of Hon-Atsugi from Shinjuku station. This will take you directly to Gotokuji station. Gotokuji Temple is less than five minutes by foot from the station. Entrance is free and is open everyday from 6 A.M to 6 P.M.